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Expression Web Roundup

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This week I've been playing with Microsoft Expression Web, the successor to FrontPage. The good news is that I would recommend it, especially if it means you will stop using Front Page. I still see a lot of TWT portfolios using Front Page, and yes there are recurring Mac glitches.

Basic Review

Although I will still be using Dreamweaver as a primary editor, I am comfortable recommending Expression Web as a good solution for many people, It is cheaper than Dreamweaver, and its interface is more similar to Microsoft Office (a major appeal of Front Page over Dreamweaver).

However, the code it generates is superior over Front Page. It is 1) cleaner, 2) standards based especially in terms of formatting which is CSS based and most importantly 3) more browser neutral. The interface is somewhere between Dreamweaver and Microsoft Office, so that newer users may be a little more comfortable, but power users can generally find the tools they need.

Unicode Review

Again, Expression Web does much better here than FrontPage. My major complaint with FrontPage in terms of Unicode was that it defaulted to the vendor-specific encoding win-1252. Surprisingly Mac supports this to some extent, but it led to all sorts of display glitches, especially for "exotic" punctuation such as smart quotes and en/em dashes, all of which were conveniently inserted by Word (the source of a lot of FrontPage text).

Expression Web is now Unicode by default, although you can adjust encodings if you need to. It also has a fairly straightforward way to insert the LANG and DIR attribute, and an Insert Symbol tool which is superior to Dreamweaver's

I did have two complaints

  1. The default font in code view is Courier which doesn't incorporate a wide range of Unicode characters. You can have HTML looks fine in WYSIWYG mode but displayes as question boxes of death in code view. Fortunately you can switch the code font to something like Arial Unicode MS.
    BTW - Dreamweaver supports font switching in code view (at least on the Mac). As long as a font is available, the code will show a character.
  2. My other complaint is from Expression Web 2 in which Language tagging was directly tied to the keyboard you were using (by default). However, I was testing keyboards and managed to set my language tag to Greek for the entire doc...before I even typed anything in. Yikes. Interestingly, this option disappeared in the most recent version (good thing).

In terms of Unicode support, I would definitely recommend Expression Web although my heart still belongs to Dreamweaver. That doesn't mean Dreamweaver couldn't use a few tweaks though (I still tend to enter a lot of Unicode info by hand...just saying).

Accessibility

The one area Expression Web fell short for me was in terms of accessibility.

One of the things I love about Dreamweaver is all the tools which allow developers to enter quirky accessibility features in WYSIWYG mode. Insert an image and you are asked for an ALT tag. Insert a form field and you are asked for a LABEL tag, and the TABLE tool lets you quickly generate TR tags.

Not so with Expression Web. It does prompt you to enter an ALT tag for images (an improvement), but that's pretty much. If you want LABELs on FORMs or TRs with SCOPE on a TABLE, then you have to do it by hand. This is so much more tedious, the temptation is to skip it to the end...and you know what happens then - nothing.

Mod Book Review 1

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I just used the Mod Book (like a Tablet PC, but on a Mac) for a meeting, so I thought would write up a few notes before I forgot. Dave has been using his modbook as a sketchpad and has gotten some excellent results, but since I'm not an artist, I thought I would use it as an engineer might to take some notes and add sketches.

Sketch of Pause Button Icon

Today I took it to a Breeze meeting, and it works fine, but there were some gotchas.

Encryption and Keyboard

The modbook is encrypted with PGP, but PGP needs password input from a keyboard...so a keyboard I requested. My desktop keyboard is too bulky to travel. According to Chris Demcheck PGP requires a keyboard with a USB connection.

In some ways, this is a benefit in disguise because I like being able to switch between Typing (e.g. URLs, passwords) and other modes. However it means that I have to go through an extra step to activate the pen.

FYI - If you don't have a plugin keyboard and you do have an unencrypted Modbook, then you can use the Axiotronic virtual keyboard utility. It puts you in iPhone mode where you tap one letter at a time. Not bad, but it is nice for me to have the working keyboard too since I can type fairly quickly.

Unicode (Of Course)

There is standard Mac OS X Unicode support on the Mod Book. What this means is that if you activate the Greek keyboard then 1) any plugged in keyboard will function as it does on other Macs but 2) the Axiotronic keyboard actually SHOWS you the Greek letters. I'm tempted to see if I can install it on my main Mac as a main reference. I'm not sure how it handles Chinese and other complex scripts, but it's a great start.

The other issue is handwriting recognition. We know that English is possible, but according to InkBook the only other options are French and German (not even Spanish). It's still a young tech.

Inkbook

For note taking, I am using the Inbook app which the company advertises as "Perfect companion for your ModBook". It opens in a format similar to a looseleaf notebook. You can add tabs for pages or section (and color code). The file can be printed as a PDF or saved as text/RTF (I will have to play with that next week).

For note taking, something like InkBook can be useful if your notes are full of weird symbols. Since you are basically handwriting notes, you can write just about anything from graphs and equations to Old Norse runes. Preference wise, I found I liked the calligraphic pen over the regular pencil. I think it forced me to print more clearly, and a little larger.

Quirk wise, I did notice that there was some glare issues with the monitor. I dimmed the lights in 210B (dark on my side) so I could see the monitor. I also propped the modbook on my sweater so i could use the speaker phone and write at the same time.

In terms of workflow, I decided to save my notes as a PDF for this round. I don't have Inkbook installed on my main machine (although you can use it on a normal Mac as long as you also have a Wacom tabler), so the notes do need to be in a format they can use. But at least they're electronic now.

Some Screencaps

I bet you were wondering if I would post any! Here's a portion of my notes with a weird upside down triangle dot symbol (∵) for "because". As you can see my handwriting is not the best, but at least I can read it.

Abington 4 exams today because no exams final week

Caption: Notes are trying to convey that engineering students at Abington have 4 exams today (Friday before last week of class) so they can be squeezed before the final week of classes when exams are NOT supposed to happen.

And here's some Old Norse Runes. As you can see, you can change colors of your pens. The top is in the calligraphic pen, but the signature is the regular pencil

Runes are blue and English pronunciations are red

Time for a Montenegran Web Site?

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While I was Brett's Gaming Commons blog entry on the totally awesome RJDJ interactive music application for the iPhone, my inner geek noticed that the download was actually from http://rjdj.me with the .me domain

I knew about the .tv domain (which is really the South Pacific island Tuvalu), but this was new so I checked it out. The .me domain is in fact from the country Montenegro (one of the many republics formed from the former Yugoslavia), and it has only become available in January 2008. from GoDaddy.com.

By July though, it turned out that GoDaddy was having a little problem sorting out multiple applications for hug.me and other popular .me ideas. It's always great to see how international protocol interacts with the marketplace.

Speaking for the former Yugoslavia though, we did lose a potential domain treasure when their original domain .yu was discontinued. Alas, there will not be any over18funfor.yu sites coming our way any time soon.

What made me switch to XHTML? XSLT!

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I read an interesting article from HTML Goodies reminding me that the switch to XHTML was mostly hype for a long time
http://www.htmlgoodies.com/beyond/xml/article.php/3669451

As Philbin points out, most of the reasons given aren't valid. This is because XHTML and HTML 4 pretty much have the same functionality, so basically:

  1. Well formed HTML is as valid as well formed XHTML. HTML Strict is pretty strict by the way - no FONT tags or ALIGN attributes allowed.

  2. You can make the same stupid accessibility glitches in either HTML or XHTML (did you know that black on black text is valid code...but illegible?)

  3. Browsers will be supporting both HTML and XHTML for many, many years to come.

  4. Not all browsers support ad hoc combinations of XML and XHTML.
BUT Philbin did miss one thing that made me switch - XSLT. This is another XML schema which lets you convert non HTML XML into XHTML. But because XSLT is an XML schema, it can only reference another XML file...and only XHTML fits the bill. If you want an XSLT generated page to mesh well with the rest of the site, the entire site should really be in XHTML.

This may be a case of the future is coming, but it really takes 5-10 years for it to arrive.

By the way, Dreamweaver 8 was my "bestest" friend ever in the switch. You open any document, then go to the File menu, then Convert, then pick your format (I recommend XHTML Transitional for beginnners, unless you were already HTML Strict).

Once you do this, Dreamweaver magically converts all <br> tags to <br> tags, and all <img> tags to <img /> (and it adds the pesky slash to all your single line meta tags). It also adds the correct DTD statement (so I'm not having to cut and paste that either). After that your WSYWIG editors is set to produce the XHTML versions of the tags and Dreamweaver valildation is generally picker when it's XHTML so it finds basic glitches much faster.

Now...we just have to worry about XHTML 2!